My relationship with NWT’s Hauxley Nature Reserve goes back a long way: to my childhood no less when, during my middle school days, it served as the perfect place to escape reality and engross myself in nature. Indeed, for me, the reserve has always been a place of learning – gifting me with early encounters than greatly shaped my current path – and, likewise, a place of escapism where, during tumultuous younger years, I would lose myself entirely in the natural world. It still is; though things have changed monumentally since these early visits.
Now, following extensive remodelling and renovation, Hauxley is a far cry from the reserve I remember: boasting new walks, improved hides and, most impressive all, a state of the art visitor experience centre and cafe constructed entirely, believe it or not, from straw bales. A feature which hardcore naturalists may feel deducts from the wild value of the site but, to me, represents a victory in our constant battle to make nature accessible and normalise the enjoyment of the natural world. Change, in this instance, having a remarkable, positive effect.
Complete with its new furnishings, appealing walking conditions and ease of access, Hauxley, perhaps more so than any other site in Northumberland, provides a chance for normal people, those disliking of tedious slogs through mud and water, and partial to a spot of comfort to experience nature. And, in its own little way, is perfect: attracting a great many people who, otherwise, would remain absent from the outdoors and in doing so, working to bring wildlife into the lives of new people on a daily basis. A very noble purpose indeed and one I believe this particular site fulfils marvellously.
Despite its many alterations, Hauxley remains a fantastic place to enjoy wildlife. Something clear and apparent during my latest excursion when, under pristine Spring skies, I set off around the reserve. Pausing in the carpark to appreciate a vocal flock of Tree Sparrows – a rather rare bird nationally which thrives here – and simultaneously engrossed by the descending song of Willow Warblers concealed amid some nearby willows. Very apt.
Moving on the lake, it was the sheer diversity of waterfowl that struck me first: intricately marked Gadwall and chestnut-headed Wigeon present in abundance, alongside an eclectic mix of Teal, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Mandarin and Mallard. The smaller frames of ducks interspersed with myriad larger fowl, including two glorious White-Fronted Geese. Scarce Winter visitors to Britain, identified by the namesake white patches on their face, which today, lounged just outside the hide – providing delightful views of a species usually seen as a distant blur on the horizon, in Ireland or Northern Scotland. The experience here amplified by the metallic calls of displaying Lapwing and the sight of a cryptic Snipe secreted among the reeds.
Moving outwards, along the sites new circular trail, a Tree Bumblebee crossed my path, followed by a Peacock Butterfly – the years first – dancing upwards, clearly encouraged by the balmy temperatures. Small, inconspicuous species abundant here which only added to the seasonal feel of the visit but, unashamedly, were quickly forgotten upon sight of an Osprey passing high overhead, much to the delight of passers-by. Not a species I expected to encounter here, on the coast, and a testament to the nature of such places where it definitely pays to expect the unexpected.
Hours passed quickly from here on out – a vividly marked male Wheatear standing out among as a definitive highlight among a mix of other, tantalising, avian odds and ends – Bullfinch, Chiffchaff, Curlew and Kestrel included – and a veritable smorgasbord of invertebrate life. A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly following the lead of the earlier Peacock and marking a significant milestone in this particular naturalist’s calendar. Although, the sight of a few roving Honeybees was not to be scoffed at.
Back at the visitor centre, watching inquisitively on from atop a purpose-built feeder, a Red Squirrel was observed. A species whose national (and regional) population has all but collapsed yet one that here, amid the pine-belts surrounding the reserve, clings on defiant. Places such as this, where Red Squirrels can still be found with relative ease and, more importantly, can be enjoyed absent disturbance by myriad visitors, work wonders: keeping the flame of admiration burning for embattled species and hopefully inspiring others to take up arms in their defence. Hauxley certainly did this for me – early encounters with Red Squirrels and their growing infrequency elsewhere serving as one of the main catalysts for my career in wildlife conservation.
The Red Squirrel darts off, blonde-tinged tail bouncing as it disappears into the bottle-green foliage – its departure providing a cue for me myself to follow suit and leave. Content with my haul and encouraged by both the wealth of wildlife seen today and the platform provided by Hauxley for its enjoyment by the wider public.
The scones are rather good too…
*For those looking to visit Hauxley via bus, the nearby town of High Hauxley is served the Arriva x20 service departing Newcastle, and Ashington. From here it roughly a one-mile walk to the reserve, and the joys it holds*